Free number 90 - December 2021 / January 2022
Once upon a time there was Tora-san Eric Rechsteiner for Zoom Japan
Eric Rechsteiner for Zoom Japan
Some of the 50 posters at the Tora-san Museum in Shibamata of the film series Otoko wa tsurai yo (It’s Tough Being a Man) with Atsumi Kiyoshi.
Once upon a time... Tora-san This fictional character created by the filmmaker Yamada Yoji has left a deep impression on Japanese society.
etween 1969 (1968, if we count the TV drama) and 1995, Tora-san was a constant presence on Japan’s small and big screens as new instalments of the Otoko wa tsurai yo (It’s Tough Being a Man) series regularly came out once or twice a year. The saga may have ended, and younger people hardly know who Tora-san is, but his picaresque adventures still represent an important cultural heritage. In “Japaneseness According to Tora-san”, an essay published by the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, Okazaki Hiroki argues that Otoko wa tsurai yo expresses the essence of being Japanese. For example, while the series shows the social and cultural changes occurring in the 1970s and ’80s, it also highlights the im-
portance of the country’s traditional values. “It is said that the idea of Japaneseness is disappearing these days,” says Okazaki, “and many point out the fact that the traditional ties in local communities have become weak. In rural society, people treasured the wisdom of their ancestors and the village elders. However, urbanisation has diluted those commonly shared values. “Even Tora-san’s family and the Shibamata area are portrayed as transitioning from rural to urban society – a process that often causes conflicts and misunderstandings. However, the shopping district where Tora-san’s shop is located has continued to thrive. The shop owners seem to understand that they must stay united in order to compete with large department stores and shopping malls.” Tora-san is indeed a stubborn rebel who prizes individual freedom, but the spirit of wa or harmony eventually prevails in each episode of the series. “The sense of devotion to the happiness of family, friends and neighbours never wanes
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thanks to the strong ties within the community,” Okazaki says. “In the end, getting along with each other is the most important thing. This is achieved through discussion and cooperation. From ancient times, the Japanese have understood that for things to go well, we have to be compassionate and avoid being selfish.” To make his point, Okazaki focuses on Torasan’s relationship with the women he falls in love with – the so-called Madonnas. “Tora-san chases women all the time,” he says, “though he always ends up empty-handed. There are times when he seems to be on the verge of getting what he wants, but he often draws back at the last moment, sacrificing his feelings to the greater good.” “A typical case is the fifteenth sequel in the series, Torajiro aiaigasa (Tora-san’s Rise and Fall, 1975), in which the protagonist admits that Lily, the woman he loves, ‘is a smart, well-tempered lady. She can’t be happy with a fool like me’. In other words, Tora-san puts aside his feelings for Lily as he thinks about her happiness first. It can be said
FOCUS that Tora-san’s attitude perfectly expresses the spirit of wa, which the Japanese have cherished since ancient times.” Kikuchi Masashi, a political reporter for Nippon Television, presents a different interpretation of Tora-san’s influence on Japanese society. In an article published on the website of Gendai Shinsho magazine (“What do you think of Torasan in Japan today?”), Kikuchi says that people nowadays are less likely to get angry like Tora-san did. This is because they have forgotten the lessons learned from the disastrous Pacific War. “Tora-san preached to intellectuals and elites who were bound by social customs,” Kikuchi says. “He conveyed the need to get rid of social vanity and focus instead on loving people, thinking about one’s own family, and reaching out to those who are in trouble. That’s why people forgave Tora-san’s faults and sympathized with him. “Once upon a time [in the 1950s and ’60s], the Japanese were happy to express their anger. Both workers and students complained and participated in demonstrations in their tens of thousands. They flooded the streets, besieged Parliament in Tokyo and clashed with the police. But Tora-san was needed in later decades as well. In the 1970s and ’80s, for example, corruption and the waste of taxes was very prevalent, and Tora-san continually displayed his indignation about politics and general wrongdoing.” In a 2015 interview in Asahi Shimbun’s digital edition, director Yamada lamented that “Japan was fine from the 1960s to the ’70s. Young people had great vitality. Atsumi-san [the actor playing Tora-san] understood the importance of ongoing discussion and supporting minority opinions.” Speaking of Yamada, Kikuchi mentions a TV interview broadcast on 11 January 2020 in which the director confessed that in the beginning, he had underestimated Tora-san’s appeal. “I thought such a person couldn’t live in contemporary Japan,” the director said. “He clearly wasn’t allowed to live freely as he wished, so he had to die. That’s why I killed him in the last episode of the original TV drama.” Its rapid economic growth notwithstanding, Japan in the 1960s was a tightly controlled society, and Tora-san’s world was already being threatened. However, a lot of people were rooting for him. They saw in Tora-san someone who lived freely and honestly; a man full of humanity who embraced both happiness and sadness. Tora-san was a man of the people, and made them laugh with such lines as “Are you more stupid than me?” After the last episode of the drama was aired, the TV station was flooded with complaints, and Yamada admitted he had not realised that
Japanese society needed Tora-san. So he made a movie, which proved very popular and later became a long and successful series. “Unfortunately, today there are very few people like Tora-san,” Kikuchi says. “Nobody gets angry, especially in public. If you express anger and start yelling, you just get a frosty look of disapproval.” Kikuchi then goes on to list some of the problems that marred Abe Shinzo’s cabinet: falsification of official documents by the Ministry of Finance over the Moritomo scandal; fraudulent government statistics; corruption cases related to the development of casinos in Japan, etc. “Every time a problem was discovered, politicians and bureaucrats kept lying and destroying incriminating documents while Abe apologized, but never considered resigning. And yet, the Abe Cabinet’s approval rating remained high.” But why have the Japanese stopped getting angry? According to Kikuchi, one of the reasons is that the lessons the Japanese had learned from the war have been forgotten and are not discussed anymore at a national level. “Everyone knows the historical fact,” he says, “but the lesson that those in power can fail and their mistakes can lead to the death of millions of people has been forgotten.” Another reason, according to Kikuchi, is what he calls the “unwritten rule” of the Heisei era. “Our generation, born in the Heisei years, has been forced to adapt to their social surroundings,” he says. “The Japanese value harmony, but there are times when we should put that aside and show our indignation, our anger. However, the younger generation, who were raised by such adults, grew up thinking that getting angry was not good. In today’s Japan, there’s an implicit understanding in social life that you should not expose your inner self unless you do it anonymously on the internet. Even the media have given up. The result is that Japan has become a ‘castrated’ society.” This opinion is echoed in an essay that appeared in the Infinity Dream blog. The anonymous author of the article points out that “Torajiro is neither frightened by nor subservient to the power of authority. The truth is that he probably does not understand the nature of the power wielded by the authorities. In other words, Torajiro’s mental landscape is both narrow and very clear. In his mental landscape, there are people such as his sister Sakura, the good people who run the Toraya store, and all the people he meets on his trips. Whether they are common people, world-class authorities on ceramic art or famous writers, it makes no difference to him.” This essay introduces an interesting idea first conceived by Yamagishi Toshio, a social psychologist: the concept of “yakuza-type commitment.”
Yamagishi studied the relationship between trust and commitment and came up with a theory of trust as a means of reducing social uncertainty. Organised crime syndicates such as the yakuza need “iron unity” not because they have a good relationship with one another but because they have to deal with attacks from the outside world. In other words, in a society full of social uncertainty, we need a fixed relationship that guarantees each other’s interests. In such a society, connections are effectively utilised by people from the same university or the same geographical area to maintain “in-group favouritism.” Therefore, the “yakuza-type commitment” is common not only to criminals but the entire Japanese community. Tora-san often says he is a gangster and even dresses like one. After all, he is a tekiya, an itinerant merchant who travels around the country setting up portable stalls at markets and festivals. Historically speaking, the tekiya, along with the bakuto (gamblers), were predecessors of the modern yakuza. Tora-san, of course, is not a real gangster, but throughout the film series he is portrayed as someone who deviates from social customs and lacks the common sense that ordinary members of society have. His language (especially his angry outbursts) is probably the closest thing he shares with real yakuza. This sort of outlaw nature is a trait that appeals to the Japanese, or at least appealed to the older generations in the 1960s and ’70s. As Yamada wrote in the Special Issue of Bungei Shunju in September 2004, “In the era of high economic growth everybody had a regular job and things were looking good, and yet a lot of men and women were crazy for Tora-san, a miserable man with a broken heart. It was a time when everybody was pushed to work harder, earn more money, and buy a washing machine and a TV. But I think there was something in Torasan that Japanese people longed for. Even though they worked hard and saved money, they were bothered by a sense of loss, and I wonder if they were relieved by seeing Tora-san, someone who lived his life at his own pace without running after some impossible middle-class dream. For him, life was very simple. As long as he had a room to spend the night and a bottle of sake, he was satisfied.” It is the eccentrics and weirdos who are the first to be sacrificed when the world is in recession. It is an efficient way to manage the world, but it results in a dull, homogeneous society. Also, those who are left are too afraid to raise their voices. They become yes-men who think only about not getting fired. But people like Torasan are different. They add spice to everyday life and make the world better. Gianni Simone
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FOCUS PLACE Shibamata or the soul of the Tiger The spirit of Tora-san is ever present in this district in the north-east of the capital where he lived.
Official poster of the Tora-san Summit, which took place on 20 and 21 November 2021.
The Tora-san Summit takes place around some of Shibamata’s main attractions and film locations such as its shopping street, the Taishakuten Buddhist temple and the Tora-san Museum. While the event’s basic structure and feel have not changed, each year it strives to introduce new elements and participants. “In 2017, for example, (5:55),” Arimaki says. “Then, in 2019, to celebrate both the Summit’s fifth anniversary and Tora-san’s fifteeth, Yamada Yoji and some of the main cast (Baisho Chieko, Maeda Gin and Sato Gajiro) made a special appearance and shared their memories of working on such a long project.”
Eric Rechsteiner for Zoom Japan
toko wa tsurai yo (It’s Tough Being a Man) may be a thing of the past, but Tora-san fans can revisit the series and its many film locations at an annual event which takes place in Shibamata, where the fictional Kuruma family lives. According to Aramaki Sho of the Katsushika Ward Tourism Department who is in charge of the two-day event, the Tora-san Summit (https:// torasan-summit.jp, www.facebook.com/torasan, www.instagram.com/torasan_summit) was first held in 2015 following a proposal by the chairman of the Jinmeikai, the real-life shopping street where Tora-san’s family dumpling shop is located. “We live in an era when everything seems to change at a rapid pace,” Aramaki says. “That’s why the time has come to reevaluate those things that remain unchanged. Shibamata is one such place and the Otoko wa tsurai yo series features places and landscapes – not only in Shibamata but all over Japan – that have managed to retain their traditional charm. Series director Yamada Yoji himself has expressed his desire that these locations remain faithful to their traditional values and do not succumb to the winds of change.” The Jinmeikai was also behind the idea of putting statues of Tora-san and his sister Sakura in front of Shibamata Station. The retail association financed the project, and Katsushika Ward is now in charge of looking after them.
In Shibamata, Tora-san is everywhere, as is the work of Yamada Yoji in general. The poster of his latest film Kinema no kamisama (It’s a Flickering Life), released on 6 August. 4 ZOOM JAPAN number 90 December 2021 / January 2022
The relationship between Shibamata and Yamada Yoji is pretty unique. No other director has ever shot films in the same location for so many years. Between 1969 and 1989, he actually made two films every year, so he likes to say that Shibamata has become his home. This close, almost symbiotic relationship with the Tora-san saga has benefitted Shibamata to such an extent that in 2018 it was selected as an Important Cultural Landscape by the Ministry of Culture. “The people of Shibamata are obviously proud of their heritage and their connection with Tora-san,” Aramaki says, “and they are eager to introduce the area’s cultural history to the many visitors who make the long trek to this little corner of Tokyo.” The Summit itself has steadily grown in popularity, rising from an initial attendance of 21,000 visitors in 2015 to settle at around 80,000. “We were lucky that in 2017, TV Tokyo broadcast a special programme on Shibamata featuring our event,” Aramaki says. “Thanks to this unexpected publicity, attendance suddenly shot up from 38,000 to 88,000 visitors and has remained very high since.” Asked about the Summit’s popularity, Aramaki says that you do not have to be a Tora-san fan to enjoy the event. “Shibamata is an excellent example of what the Japanese call Showa Retro,” he says. The Showa era lasted from 1926 to 1989, but the term Showa Retro specifically refers to the years between the mid-50s and the 1960s. Many people look back with nostalgia at that moment in Japanese history, the “good old days” when everybody looked to the future with optimism. “Many other locations around Japan are also represented every year at our event,” Aramaki adds, “so a visit to the Summit is a good chance to plan your next trip around Japan. Last but not least, gastronomy plays an important role in the festivities as every year we come up with new dishes that attract food lovers from everywhere.” When it comes to food, Shibamata is synonymous with dango (glutinous rice dumplings) because that’s what Tora-san’s family sells in their old-style shop near Taishakuten. During the Edo period (1603-1868) this area was surrounded by fields, and farmers used to make dumplings with yomogi ( Japanese mugwort), a plant from the sunflower family. The daughters of farmers who went to work in samurai residences and large merchant houses as apprentices used to bring them as a gift. But of course, the Tora-san Summit is not only
Eric Rechsteiner for Zoom Japan
The shopping street, with the Taishakuten temple in the background, attracts around 90,000 visitors during the Tora-san Summit held in November each year.
about dumplings. “As a public servant who is in charge of the event, I guess I shouldn’t reveal my personal tastes,” Aramaki says laughing, “but among the food available this year, I particularly like the roasted-green-tea cake roll from Okayama and the cake roll made with rice flour by a local Japanese confectioner. But of course,
it’s more than just sweet food on offer. There’s something for every taste.” Speaking about future plans for the Summit, Aramaki points out that the challenge for Shibamata is to attract younger generations who may not know who Tora-san is. “It’s true that many teenagers and 20-somethings have
As proof of Japan’s continuing enthusiasm for Tora-san, Tully’s Coffee sold spin-off merchandise from 20 to 30 November, including a handkerchief bearing the character’s image in the form of railway tracks.
never seen a Tora-san film,” he says. “However, we hope that such places as the Tora-san Museum will act as catalysts to create a new interest in the area. Many older visitors often bring their grandchildren with them. Hopefully, they will transmit their love for Tora-san to those kids.” According to the Tora-san Summit website, “The never-changing landscapes and human values are a central feature in Otoko wa tsurai yo, and this event aims at protecting both those places and ideas as an important characteristic of this country.” Aramaki agrees that these values should be nurtured for future generations. “The nuclear family model has become widespread in Japan,” he says, “but I grew up in a three-generation family, and I’m grateful that I was able to live with my grandparents. The Tora-san films show the importance of sharing the happy and sad things in life with both your family and the local community. “Everyone has an original landscape in their hearts. It is different for each person and might be a real landscape or an imaginary one. Whatever the place, it has the power to make you feel nostalgic and take you back to your childhood memories. By protecting these places, we hope to nurture our ‘landscapes of the heart’.” G. S.
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EATING & DRINKING TREND Japanese-style
This Christmas specialist bakeries will be offering their customers this popular Italian speciality.
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Created two years ago, the Panettone Society organises tastings and seminars to promote this traditional cake.
Panettone cake for Japanese Christmas.
Milan. Pane & Olio, a specialist Italian bakery, also sells panettone that has won two prizes at the Milan competition. Among the ever-increasing variety of panettone on offer in the Archipelago, we can obviously also find Japanese versions with ingredients such as citrus fruit (sudachi, kabosu, yuzu...), apples, blackberries, blueberries, and seasonal products (chestnuts, sakura...).
Last year, in Ginza, luxury brand Bulgari sold a salted panettone priced at 10,000 yen (£ 66). The bakery chain Dong, founded in Japan 116 years ago, has been making panettone since the 1970s which are far more affordable. Bakeries continue to send their craftsmen to Italy for training to keep the authentic Italian method alive. As its name suggests, the word panettone is most probably derived from panetto (bun). It resembles bread rather than cake, and the Japanese might well have considered it less glamorous to celebrate Christmas. But then ‘luxury sandwich bread’ became popular, and now it’s no longer unusual to give bread as a gift, just like cake. The boundary between bread and cakes is much more blurred than before, and is probably what has encouraged this fashion for panettone. Sekiguchi Ryoko
he Japanese, for whom Christmas is not a tradition, have always taken the liberty of interpreting it as they see fit. Christmas Day has evolved from being a day to enjoy a drink or a night out with your lover before now regaining its place as a family celebration. The same thing has happened to the kind of cakes eaten at Christmas. At one time it was strawberry cakes, then ice cream and yule logs… recently, stollen has been very popular and was to be seen as early as November in almost all cake shop windows. But there’s a strong likelihood its popularity will be overtaken by another competitor, this time from Italy: panettone. Let’s be clear, the Japanese are not the first to seize on this delicacy with gusto, which is gaining popularity in many countries. Even in France, you can find it made in the authentic way using sourdough starter. But it’s well known that the Japanese don’t mess about when they get stuck in. Two years ago, a group of chefs and journalists even created an association, the Panettone Society, to promote this traditional cake in Japan. They organise tastings of both Italian and Japanese panettone, seminars to learn more about its history as well as “master classes” lead by Suzuki Yahei. Suzuki, chef of the one-star restaurant Piatto Suzuki, has taken part and won awards in five panettone competitions in Milan. He was even accorded the title “maestro”… In addition, two years ago, LESS, a shop specialising in panettone, opened in Tokyo. Here, authentic panettone is made by an Italian-Japanese duo, Gabriele Riva and Sakakura Kanako, with sourdough starter imported specially from
EATING & DRINKING HARUYO RECIPE KUSADANGO
Rice dumplings with yomogi (Japanese mugwort)
Ingredients (for 5 skewers)
01 - Blanch the spinach and rocket leaves for about 5 minutes in boiling water to which bicarbonate of soda has been added. 02 - Drain the leaves and chop with a knife. 03 - Mix the rice flour and water in a bowl. 04 - Cover (03) with cling film and microwave for 4 minutes. 05 - Stir in the sugar (04) then fold and roll the dough with a wet rolling pin.
• 100 g rice flour • 100 ml water • 15 g sugar • 40 g mix of spinach leaves and shungiku (edible chrysanthemum). You can replace shungiku with rocket leaves. (The original recipe for kusadango used yomogi (Japanese mugwort). • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda. • Enough tsubuan (red bean paste) to decorate.
06 - Once the mixture is smooth, add the chopped spinach and rocket and mix well. 07 - Wet your hands and form the dough into balls. 08 - Skewer the dumplings and decorate with the red bean paste. Serve.
• Tip: To finish, sprinkle with kinako (roasted soy flour).
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The Sannai Maruyama site provides an insight into the way the Jomon people lived.
In the north lived the Jomon Tohoku welcomes the inclusion of its prehistoric sites from the Jomon period on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
ast summer, while the world was engrossed in the spectator-less Tokyo Olympics, Japan quietly received a different kind of award. On 27 July, UNESCO announced that the Jomon archaeological sites in Northern Japan had been added to their august list of World Heritage Sites. It is Japan’s twentieth UNESCO site nomination, but the first for a prehistoric one. The news was welcomed with joy by the people of the Tohoku region. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the horrific 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the area. Tohoku had been counting on the Olympics to bring a large number of visitors to help revive the local economy. This influx of tourists failed to materialise
due to the pandemic. But UNESCO’s decision has raised hopes that, someday soon, the tourist boom may still happen. “It’s a result for which we had been waiting for a long time,” said Hananoki Masahiko, director of the museum on the Oyu Kanjo Resseki (Oyu Stone Circles) site. “I hope that it helps to revitalise our region.” Local groups campaigning to raise awareness and preserve these ancient marvels hailed the decision, calling the sites “The pride of our regions”. “Being listed by UNESCO is not our end goal. It’s only the start,” says Sato Fumitaka, a member of a NGO dedicated to raising public interest in the Sannai Maruyama site. “We want to cooperate with the other regions on promoting these ancient remains, to share in the appeal of the Jomon era.” The Jomon sites comprise seventeen Neolithic sites scattered across the north-eastern prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Akita in the Tohoku
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area, and the northern island of Hokkaido. They reveal the lives of a hunter-gatherer society that flourished in Japan for over 10,000 years following the last Ice Age, from around 14,500 BCE to 300 BCE. The name Jomon means “cord-patterned”, a term coined by archaeologist Edward Morse in 1877 to describe the decorations found on pottery from that period, made by imprinting the shape of a rope or other objects into the clay. Jomon people made some of the world’s oldest pottery, as early as 14,400 BCE. The patterns that decorate much of the pottery display an astonishing artistic sensitivity. Jomon pots were used for cooking, food storage and even as burial jars for children. Jomon people also stand out because, although they were hunter-fisher-gatherers, they lived in permanent dwellings near their food sources – particularly coasts, river banks and forest edges. Most other Neolithic peoples were nomadic.
This marks a significant point in human evolution: the start of the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to sustainable village life. As the UNESCO declaration states, Jomon culture bears “a unique testimony to the development over some 10,000 years of the pre-agricultural yet sedentary Jomon culture and its complex spiritual belief system and rituals. It attests to the emergence, development, maturity and adaptability to environmental changes of a sedentary hunter-fisher-gatherer society.” There is also evidence of trade between isolated Jomon communities, rudimentary horticulture and even forest management. Among the seventeen sites, the 95-acre Sannai Maruyama village near Aomori City is one of the largest. It thrived for 1,500 years, from 3500 BCE to 2000 BCE. The site was already well-known in the Edo Era (1603-1868). At its peak, hundreds of people are thought to have dwelt here. The excavation, which began in 1992, unearthed sunken pit dwellings, pillar-supported buildings, stone tools, pottery, lacquered pots, and objects made from bone and antlers. Given the enormous significance of the discovery, in 1994, Aomori Prefecture took over responsibility for the preservation of Sannai Maruyama. It opened to the public the following year. It was registered as a National Historical Site in 1997, and as a Special National Historical Site in 2000, with 1,958 artefacts (the largest number in Japan) declared Important Cultural Properties. Sannai Maruyama lies in green rolling hills on a 20-metre-high terrace overlooking the Okidate River. Visitors can stroll around a reconstructed Jomon village, complete with pit houses, a 32-metre longhouse, shell mounds and burial sites. Some 700 pit dwellings have been uncovered so far – sunken houses covered with a roof made from thatch, tree bark or mud. The site’s most iconic monument is a three-storey, nearly 15-metre-high tower made of six massive chestnut pillars. It’s not known whether this was a watchtower, lighthouse or some form of shrine. Be sure to visit the Sanmaru Museum too. It houses some 1,700 artefacts from the site, including some 500 important cultural properties all excavated from the Sannai Maruyama site. There are also life-size dolls depicting daily Jomon life. You can try your hand at making Jomon-style pottery and even have your picture taken wearing a Jomon costume. You can also see fascinating artefacts such as female fertility figures, lacquered pots, jade beads used in shamanistic rituals and the mysterious bulging-eyed dogu figurines, all of which hint at a complex spiritual belief system. Just 20 minutes away by car, at the Komakino site, you can
It was the American archaeologist Edward Morse who coined the term “Jomon“.
visit a large Jomon stone circle, over 50 metres in diameter. The rubbish tip in Sannai’s North Valley swamp area offers tantalizing clues into the Jomon diet, as the moisture-rich soil contains remarkably well-preserved remains of animal and fish bones as well as plant seeds, lacquerware, wooden artefacts, woven objects, and even parasite eggs. The UNESCO listing emphasises that the Jomon sites are relevant to the whole world, not just Japan, stating that the Jomon property “possesses outstanding universal value as a testimony of a unique cultural tradition
representing the way in which human beings coexisted with nature over an immense period of time.” Aomori’s governor, Mimura Shingo, underlined the enormous significance of UNESCO’S listing of the sites, recalling that when he was a schoolboy the Jomon period was not even included in “history textbooks, which began with the Yayoi Period” (300 BCE – 300 CE, after the Jomon Era). “Now, the Jomon period has been recognised as one of the most important foundations of the cultural history of this country,” he said.
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Oyu Kanjo Resseki is one of seventeen sites registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2021.
He also remarked that the Jomon people not only lived in harmony with nature but also “worked together in peace.” Mimura feels that this peaceful lifestyle – coexisting with nature, and also with each other – lasting over 10,000 years using just stone, wood and earth, has a lot to offer the world. “I hope that both the prefecture’s inhabitants and the people of the world will think about the history and significance of each and every site that has been listed.” And let’s not forget the exquisite beauty and
unique design of the pottery that gave the Jomon people their name. Indeed, just as the cave paintings of Lascaux and Altamira are recognised as the precursors of the grand artistic traditions of France and Spain, we can see in the Jomon pottery the origin of Japan’s long tradition of artistic ceramic production, exhibiting the sophisticated design and style that still characterises Japanese pottery today. Steve John Powell & Angeles Marin Cabello
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HOW TO GET THERE SANNAI MARUYAMA is 13 minutes by shuttle bus from Shin-Aomori Shinkansen Station, or 30 minutes by taxi from Aomori Airport. Shin-Aomori Shinkansen Station is a 4-hour shinkansen ride from Tokyo. The Sannai Maruyama site has brochures and audio players in English, Chinese and Korean.
YURI’S RECIPE Japanese aesthetic
“NERIKIRI” YURI LEE
https://www.instagram.com/wagashi_art_uk/ https://www.instagram.com/wagashiinbloom/ https://www.wagashiart.com/
sive, sweets were very valuable and could only be eaten at special times, such as ceremonies and celebrations. In the early Edo period when the war ended, people could afford to enjoy sweets, causing the culture of Japanese sweets to develop rapidly. In particular, it is said that many Japanese sweets with beautiful appearances were born in Kyoto, where there were many cultural tea masters.
Design concept of nerikiri The nerikiri design was not simply developed to make beautiful-looking sweets. It is thought that you can taste the beauty of the season through sweets representing the changing of the four seasons and the beauty of nature such as the flowers, birds, and moons. A few examples of seasonal themes are: cherry blossom and rape blossom in spring, cool water and large radiant sunflowers in summer, autumn leaves and seasonal fruits, winter snow and chrysanthemum flowers.
I myself make a lot of nerikiri, and have created many traditional forms as well as original designs symbolising the flowers I see blooming in the garden, or designs that I thought of with a family member in mind. Nerikiri design fascinates me and will always intrigue me due to the depth of thought that goes into the sweets and the endless array of options.
ecember is an exciting time in Europe to prepare for Christmas. However, December is more of a time for Japanese people to prepare for the New Year than Christmas. New Year is a very sacred and special event for Japanese people, aside from its religious significance, as it is a holiday to spend time with family. Like Christmas is in Europe, New Year also has delicious seasonal products. Japanese sweets served around New Year’s Day tend to be slightly higher-class and a bit more special than usual. So, instead of many typical Japanese sweets, I would like to introduce nerikiri.
What is nerikiri ? Nerikiri is a type of Japanese confectionery classified as “raw confectionery”. A fresh confectionary is one that contains at least 30 percent moisture in the confectionery itself. There are various kinds of fresh confectionery, and nerikiri is one of the “fresh sweets” that refers to the finest and high-quality ones among them. Nerikiri is mainly made with white bean paste and sugar, with yamaimo, flour, or mochi added. The official name is nerikiri-an, but it is more commonly known by the abbreviation. Nerikiri is beautiful in appearance and is sometimes referred to as edible art. Usually, specially trained chefs create beautiful seasonal designs of nerikiri which recreate the beauty within nature and changing seasons. Nerikiri are therefore often served at high end celebrations and tea ceremonies, in which the thoughtful aesthetics can be appreciated. Nerikiri are not only beautiful to look at but are also delicious. The main ingredients of the white bean paste have an elegant and subtle taste which creates a delicate flavour to the nerikiri. This has made it popular throughout the generations.
The history and origin of nerikiri Nerikiri has a long history as a Japanese sweet. Originally, kashi (confectionery) was a word for fruit. It can be said that it is a remnant of the name of fruit being called mizugashi (water confectionery). In times when sugar was very expen-
Five senses of nerikiri Nerikiri is said to be tasted with five senses. The beautiful design seen with the eyes, the delicious smell with the nose, the texture felt and of course the taste with your mouth. But what does it have to do with your ears? The answer is the name attached to each nerikiri called “Kamei”. By hearing the name of the nerikiri, I picture the beautiful scene in my head. Therefore it is not only the design of the sweet but also the image it conjures which is experienced when it is eaten. It is a very meaningful concept which intentionally stimulates the imagination, creating a kind of experience which goes beyond just food. Despite the fact that most nerikiri are small enough to fit inside the palm of your hand, I think it is impressive the depth of meaning that each holds, and the idea of it being tasted using all five senses.
Modern nerikiri trends In the past, nerikiri was only made by Japanese confectionery craftsmen with many years of training, as it was a skilled practice. These were bought at Japanese confectionery shops, and only eaten on special occasions. However, “nerikiri art” and “wagashi art” recently regained popularity, with the design element becoming more contemporary and open to artistic interpretation as younger generations begin to take on the art form. Nowadays, it has become a sweet that can be enjoyed not only at tea ceremonies, but also as a casual snack by men and women of all ages. Even on a global scale, nerikiri is quickly attracting attention as a form of Japanese confectionery art. Furthermore, nerikiri is naturally made without animal ingredients, so it is good for the environment in comparison to other sweets and suitable for vegans. I am excited to see how the world of nerikiri develops in years to come. All images ©2021wagashiart.com
12 ZOOM JAPAN number 90 December 2021 / January 2022